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Violence and diaspora

The relocation of the Ahmadi khalifa to the UK in the 1980s did not stem the violence against the Ahmadis in Pakistan but rather brought it more directly to the attention of Western nations, partly because of the increase in Ahmadi asylum seekers fleeing persecution who hence became a matter of policy concern to Western and generally anti-immigration nations. It has also resulted in the transnational spread of anti-Ahmadi practices as the anti-Ahmadi groups in Pakistan have continued their campaigns in the diaspora, and this too has made it necessary for Western governments to learn about the various groups and their positions and then to intervene as and when deemed necessary. This global shift is also one that has taken a primarily local and regional sectarian conflict and introduced it to Muslims on a global scale. While some 25 or so years ago, it was the case that anyone who had been educated in Pakistan knew about the Ahmadis and most had clear ideas about what they thought of them, it was still possible for Muslims from other parts of the world not to have heard of Ahmadiyya Islam. Even some of the now middle-aged converts to Ahmadiyya Islam I came to know, and who themselves came from Muslim backgrounds, North African and other, told me that until they moved to London they had never heard of the Ahmadis.

Today that position has changed, and this is in part because of the use of the internet and satellite television which are means for both the Ahmadis to present their faith using new technologies and for those who oppose them to counter them using the same means. The Ahmadi Baitul Futuh mosque in South London, for example, houses a fully functioning television studio and many programs are made and broadcast from this location on MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya), which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2017.61 Ahmadi public functions are always recorded, edited and broadcast, and easily accessed on YouTube. So too are the many programs made by those hostile to the Ahmadis and which from time to time include materials which are considered to overstep the bounds of what is acceptable, as happened, for example, in 2008 and 2014 on Geo TV in programs broadcast from Pakistan and on Channel 44 in 2017 (Ahmad, W. 2008; The Nation 2014; Taylor 2008a; Tobitt 2019).62

And while the Ahmadis had, from early in the twentieth century, sent their missionaries west to convert Europeans and Americans to Ahmadiyyat, the current difficulties they experience in Muslim countries such as Pakistan have meant that their efforts in this regard have simply been refocused on Western nations and elsewhere, as with their campaigns in West Africa. In the UK, for example, there is a current Ahmadi plan to establish five new mosques a year for five years across the country, while in Pakistan Ahmadis are not allowed to call their places of worship mosques and their places of worship are vandalized and closed (AHRC and IHRC

Sameness and difference 31 2015:75; House of Commons 2013:1-2; IRB Canada 2013:2—3).63 Paradoxically, therefore, in a West that post 9/11 has been less than welcoming to Muslims, the Ahmadis are able to build places of worship and to call them mosques which they cannot do in Pakistan. And more generally, for the majority non-Muslim population of the UK, the Ahmadis and their mosques are self-evidently Muslim and this is how they are represented in the often hostile mass media, which lumps them together with all other Muslims.

In some ways, the current location of the Ahmadis in the West is one that resembles the situation of the Ahmadis in colonial India, and this has made it necessary for non-Muslim authorities to mediate and regulate the interactions between mutually antagonistic Muslim groups. The strategies used by those opposed to the Ahmadis in colonial India and independent Pakistan, such as boycotting their shops and businesses, continue to be among those used in the UK today (Awan 2010:59; Awan, Kokab and Iqbal 2013:185; Saeed 2010:44, 212; Westminster Hall Debate 2010:7, 13, 2016:12, 20). And the hostility shown to Ahmadis who seek political office in the UK today also has a history that can be traced back to both colonial and post-colonial times. So while the level of violence against Ahmadis in the UK has certainly never equalled that faced in Pakistan, and has never led to incidents on the scale of the mass murder of over 90 men and boys as they prayed on a Friday afternoon in May 2010 in Lahore, there is continuing evidence of discrimination and harassment of Ahmadis taking place across the UK and certainly so in south London where much of my fieldwork was conducted.64

In the months following the 2010 attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, London Ahmadis found that they were increasingly the targets of discrimination and abuse in the diaspora. A member of Khatm-e-Nabuwat gave a speech at the Tooting Islamic Centre denouncing Ahmadis and calling on Muslims to boycott their businesses and to refuse to interact with them. Ahmadi women reported they were refused sendee in local restaurants as waiters informed them that they could not serve Ahmadis and Ahmadi shopkeepers lost income because of the boycott. At least one Ahmadi man in Tooting, south London, lost his job during the year because of his faith, though he later won a case for unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal, and shops had notices in Urdu in their windows stating that they would not serve Ahmadis who were described as infidels, heretics and unbelievers. It was reported that leaflets denouncing Ahmadis and calling on Muslims to use violence against them were distributed in parts of the UK. During the UK election campaign in April 2010 a non-Ahmadi Conservative candidate was mistaken for the Ahmadi Liberal Democrat candidate when he went to speak at the Tooting Islamic Centre. He had to be locked into a room for his own protection against an angry mob which had gathered outside believing him to be Ahmadi (Oates 2010a, 2010b; Westminster Hall Debate 2010). On satellite television, a Muslim channel broadcast material which media regulators, Ofcom, described as a breach of broadcasting regulations because of its ‘ “abusive treatment” of the religious views and beliefs of members of the Ahmadiyya community’ (Ofcom 2010:11). This abuse and calls to use violence against Ahmadis replicated patterns of harassment that are routine in Pakistan.

In October the MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhain McDonagh, secured a debate in Parliament on the Ahmadiyya community and announced the formation of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Ahmadis. Yet, despite the monitoring of the situation by Parliament, the police and local council officials, discrimination and boycotts continue. In January 2013, an Ahmadi woman told me of a conversation she overheard a few days earlier in Tooting between a shopkeeper and a man dressed in what she described as ‘Islamic clothing’.65 In Urdu, the bearded man in shalwar kanriz (traditional clothing of baggy trousers and loose over-shirt) asked the shopkeeper if any Ahmadis were still working in a shop across the road. The shopkeeper told him that there were no longer Ahmadis there so he could buy goods from this shop without any worries.

As the Ahmadis have migrated from South Asia, so too have those who oppose them, including a few who advocate for their eradication as a faith group. Global movements of people are matched too by the rise of global media, ensuring that no place in the world remains free from the consequences of historical clashes that originated over a century ago and continue with persecution in Pakistan today. The result of this is that in the UK today public officials, the police and members of the wider community who have to engage with a multi-faith general public have had to learn not only about an abstract and generalized Islam in order to carry out their jobs, but also about the realities of sectarian divides within Islam located in the specific histories and politics of particular nations, and to find strategies to deal with the historically rooted and entrenched positions that have been transplanted from the subcontinent to the UK (Balzani 2014:119-120).66 In 1943, Cantwell Smith wrote that ‘ [t]he most important fact about the Ahmadlyah Movement in Indian Islam is that the Ahmadlyah Movement is not important in Indian Islam’ (Cantwell Smith 1943:324). Even then, just a few years before partition, this assessment was too dismissive, though one could argue that it had some basis in historical circumstances. Today, Friedmann’s assertion that ‘the Ahmadi movement has been since its inception in 1889 one of the most active and controversial movements in modern Islam' (Friedmann 1989:1) seems altogether more accurate.

The Ahmadis are now viewed, in the Western countries they have made their homes and no matter what other Muslim groups believe to be the case, as just one more diasporic Muslim minority. And as with all diasporas, they have their own particular history and understanding of who they are, where they come from, and what their position in the places they now call home is. For the Ahmadis, this is not just a case of locating themselves as Muslim by contrast to the majority non-Muslim population of the UK and dealing with the often routine negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam in the country. It is for the Ahmadis, in ways perhaps more pronounced than for Muslims who identify with particular Muslim sects against others which are nonetheless accepted as Muslim, also a matter of how they deal with the negative perceptions and practices of other UK-based Muslims that merits further ethnographic scrutiny. In this regard, some of the hostilities directed against the Ahmadis in Pakistan today and in past decades are ones that have come, together with some of those who make up the Sunni

Pakistan diaspora, to the UK. Migration brings not only people with their positive differences and desires to contribute to their new countries but also past divisions, controversies and antagonisms. And if it were not for the hostilities Ahmadis face in Pakistan, the community in the UK would comprise those who arrive as missionaries, students and migrant workers but not as asylum seekers and refugees. What has taken place, and what continues to happen, in Pakistan has a very clear and direct impact not just on who is in the UK but also on some of the local and national events that take place between Ahmadis and other Muslims and which British authorities have to deal with, as the following chapters make clear.

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